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FCC may table cross-ownership

Plans to reconsider the ban on same-market ownership of TV stations and newspapers may be delayed until a new group of commissioners joins the FCC this summer.

Unable to settle differences between his colleagues, agency chairman Michael Powell Tuesday was forced to remove a proposed relaxation of the rule from the agenda of the agency's monthly meeting Thursday. With one seat vacant on the five-member panel, Powell couldn't get the three-vote majority needed to begin the rulemaking.

Powell, determined not to be viewed as prejudging the issue, won the support of Democrat Susan Ness for a generally worded review that left the fate of rule up for grabs. But Republican Harold Furchtgott-Roth wouldn't go along unless the proposal strongly implied that the ban would be removed. Democrat Gloria Tristani remained determined to cast a no vote on any suggestion that the rule might be eliminated.

Powell may get a better opportunity to form a three-vote majority when nominees to replace Furchtgott-Roth and Ness and fill the vacant seat are sworn in. Senate hearings on the nominees are expected May 17 and a confirmation vote by July 4.

Yesterday's decision isn't expected to affect the FCC's review of the Fox purchase of Chris-Craft and its 10 TV stations. The commissioners are expected to begin reviewing the deal this week. Fox's parent is expected to win an extended waiver that would let the company own a second New York City TV outlet and keep the New York Post. The open question is whether the waiver's expiration would be set for a specific date or continguent upon the outcome of the larger cross-ownership rulemaking.
- Bill McConnell